12 Years a Slave is getting a lot of attention, not only for its very important subject matter but also for its wonderful filmmaking and performances. The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, whom is abducted and sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Northup and many predict him to be among this year’s Best Actor Oscar contenders. He spoke to Reuters about this role.
You wait all your life for great scripts, you are reading everything, hassling people, your agent, you are trying to get a great part. Then this script comes through the door, and you read it and it is a great script and a great part and you think ‘Can I do this? Am I ready to do this? Is it for me?’
To tell someone the story [12 Years] is one of the most deeply enriching experiences that I have ever had as a performer or an actor. And I don’t really want to distract from that.
Ejiofor is a British actor, first cast in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad in 1997. Since then, he’s played memorable characters in many films including Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things and Lola in Kinky Boots. Watch him in these two very different roles.
Dirty Pretty Things
Ejiofor on playing Okwe in DPT via BBC Films.
I thought the whole piece was very strong – the story, the characters, the situation, everything was completely compelling. And I felt a great affinity with Okwe. I was born and raised in London, and I’ve got various family connections to Nigeria – both my mum and dad are Nigerians who emigrated to London. I had a lot of empathy and understanding for Okwe’s situation. He’s somebody who is just trying to survive on a day-to-day basis.
Ejiofor on avoiding playing a cliche as Lola in KB via The Guardian.
I wasn’t interested in playing a caricature, or being ostentatious for the sake of it, because I felt that I’d seen that before and it didn’t ring true. But if you go too far the other way you fall into another trap, where it’s all so sad, the tragic little pierrot. I didn’t want to go down that route either.